They might not be the first group to have ever used samples from vintage films (older readers may recall through an ecstasy addled haze that The Prodigy started off their career by sampling that old Government ad advising kids not to go off with strangers...possibly using ‘charly’ in an entirely different context altogether) and I’m pretty sure there may have been a few others (answers on a postcard please...). But whereas these bands have often just used the odd sample to flavour one of their tracks Public ServiceBroadcasting (the band) are building their entire career around them. It’s a neat twist, enhanced by the duo’s adoption of stiff upper lip monikers – J. Willgoose, Esq and Wrigglesworth – and their distinctly vintage live shows.
First up tonight though the rather more forward looking The Grafham Water Sailing Club, honorary members of the B-Town massive. I say more forward looking because, unlike PSB who often hark back to the 1940s and 50s, GWSC only delve back as far as the late 70s and early 80s for their more post punk / early synth inspiration (think Gang of Four and pre H17 split Human League jamming together after the phattest joint this side of Camberwell).
It’s a hypnotising mix as the band, once again clustered around their glowing ball of light on a table, provide the perfect soundtrack for a retro futuristic road movie that’s probably going on inside their heads. Another impressive showing for one of B-Town’s more original prospects.
Time then for Mssrs Willgoose and Wrigglesworth. It was always going to be a challenge making such sample heavy stuff work well as a live event, after all most of the voices you’re listening to have been dead for the odd decade or three (I’m guessing that some of the music is pre-programmed too). PSB tackle this with an imaginative stage set featuring a hoard of old TV sets that show the videos for the tracks, in front of which the band adds live instrumentation (guitars, drums, keyboards, banjos...yes...banjos). It works surprisingly well, even if your eyes are frequently drawn more to the tellies than the living, breathing musicians in front of you. Who can compete with the strong jaw of Trevor Howard or the small but perfectly formed lip weasel of David Niven though?
Somewhat unusually the band maintains radio silence throughout the gig as well, preferring to rely on pre-recorded snippets to address the capacity crowd. “It’s great to be in...” pause whilst Mr Willgoose finds the button with the right sample “...Birmingham”...cue appreciative cheers from the audience. It’s a brave move...just imagine if he’d pressed the Manchester one by mistake eh?
The band’s best tracks to date all get an airing tonight...or should that be air-raid-ing as both London Can Take It and Spitfire both hark back to World War II. It’s strangely moving watching the grainy black and white images on the screen featuring people who went through such unimaginable horror on our collective behalves and, whilst they obviously never imagined becoming unwitting stars of a 21st century electronica duo’s act, I imagine they’d be pleased that they were still being remembered some 70 years on.
It’s not all doodlebugs and chocks away though, Signal 30 melds American road safety clips to a, suitably enough, driving QOTSA soundtrack whilst Everest is a gentler beast, building to a sound of wonder as our hero, Sir Edmund Hilary, bravely scales its peak night after night, as frozen in time as the ice that surrounds him.
Part history lesson, part gig, part night at the flicks, an evening with Public Service Broadcasting all adds up to a pretty unique experience. With their self declared mission being to “teach the lessons of the past through the music of the future” I’d say tonight was a clear case of mission accomplished chaps.